Monday, April 02, 2007

Tatonka's Favorite Mariners Series #1: Junior

Monday, April 10th, 1989. The home opener that was one in a string of openers that many of us at Tatonka got to enjoy in person. This one would be special, entirely because of a teenager who is far and away the consensus all-time Tatonka’s Favorite Mariner.

Oh, it wasn’t Ken Griffey Jr.’s MLB debut. That had occurred precisely one week earlier in Alameda County Coliseum, where the Kid roped the second pitch he saw from Dave Stewart to the wall in left-center, for a solid double.

Really, even that event, which we watched with great anticipation and much cheering, was not Griffey’s major league inauguration. Instead, that was on Saturday, April 1st, when pitcher Mark Langston and new manager Jim LeFebvre had taken part in an annual rookie-hazing, April Fools joke in which LeFebvre informed Junior that he was going to be sent out to triple-A Calgary as the team broke Spring camp and headed north.

I honestly can’t recall with certainty WHERE in the Kingdome Tad and I sat as we watched the game. It almost seems like it was the seats right behind home plate, but since I was still a very poor college student then, that seems unlikely. My favorite haunt, at the time, was in the first two or three rows of the upper deck seats behind home plate on the third-base side. So perhaps we were sitting there. The records say that there were 33,864 other paying fans in the dome as well.

But all eyes were on young Ken Griffey Jr. as he walked to the plate in the evening of 10 April against Pale Hose starter Eric King. King had just dispatched of Harold Reynolds with the ol’ backwards K, and now it was Griffey Time.

There will never be another Opening Day like it. Honestly, whatever has happened with Junior since 1989, with the unhappy ending to his Mariners’ career with the trade before the 2000 season, and the injuries that have robbed baseball fans of seeing a Hall of Fame career—no one will be able to top the 1989 opener. We were, finally, foolhardy enough to BELIEVE in the ability of our beloved but inept team. We were LeFebvre Belebvres. And the Kid was going to lead us.
He’s gone on to 12 All-Star games, launching 563 HR (and counting). And WE KNEW HE WOULD. Indeed, there was little doubt watching the young man that he would be a legitimate superstar. When el Caballo, Ivan Calderon (once a promising Mariner, now toiling profitably for an opponent, one of a long string of such stories), put the White Sox ahead in the top of the first by doubling in Dave Gallagher, it merely served to remind us of all of the lost opportunities in the Seattle Mariners past.

The Kid would erase it all. He would lead us. He would take us to respectability. Two years later, we were a winning team for the first time in 15 years. 4 years after that, we erased 19 seasons of heartbreak by winning our first division title.

So, as Junior strode up to the Kingdome plate for the first time ever in a game that counted, waving his black beauty (as Dave Niehaus would say thousands of times going forward), Eric King hurled a pitch to the rookie.

Swung on and BELTED…deep to left field…to the warning track…to the wall…FLY AWAY!

Have a great Opening Day, Kid.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home